Okay, I've had a long break since I posted another chapter into this story, because of my college work and social life taking up all my time, and because when I read back on this story, I didn't feel I appreciated it as much as I used to. Some chapters are very boring and under-thought in my opinion, but nevertheless I want to finish off this story so I can say I did it. This chapter was written in segments over the space of four months, so I apologize if I seem a little inconsistent in the way it's written, or if it seems like I'm just rushing the story to finish it now. Let me know what you think, and I'm sorry if I've let you guys down!
Jenny sat up in her bed and looked around in bewilderment. The sunlight seeping in from her window was blinding, so she raised her arm up in front of her face to shield her eyes, and inspected her room doubtfully. Had she just been dreaming? She could hardly remember what she'd dreamt about, something to do with her friends and a strange looking boy, it seemed irrelevant as she pulled the covers off of her body and stood up. Bit by bit the memory came back to her, all the levels and moments with Darien, seeing her friends again, meeting Sophie, Tom's death….
The heart ache returned when the shadows cleared from her mind. She was lost to a moment of shame and loss, her body becoming limp as the image of his body returned. She wanted to forget again, and was suddenly reminded of where she was. The haunting memory could have just been a dream, a very disturbing and real dream. Jenny tested this theory, first looking down at her clothes, which to her relief were her white string sleeve top and chequered red and pink pyjama bottoms, and secondly pinching her forearm to see if she could feel the pain, which she did.
"Did I really just dream all of that?" Jenny asked herself aloud, looking around at her bright, safe room cautiously. Not only was she plagued with the idea that her mind was being played with, but she could still remember the fearful sensation of Darien walking around her room and challenging her to his own little game. She wondered if she had dreamt that too…
She leant over her bed and peered down at the space between it and her bed-side table. The bat was still gone, and the small pile of ash remained on her carpet. She couldn't have been dreaming, this was all too real, and a painful flow of questions started to fill Jenny's head. Was this the next level? Was she doing it alone? Was she back on earth or just in one of Darien's elaborate creations?
Jenny climbed out of bed and hesitantly walked towards her window, drawing the curtains all the way back and leaning over the window sill. It was a glorious morning; the street was still peaceful and deserted, only filled with the sound of birds singing and the vivid colours of the grass neatly cut in front of each house and the clear blue sky above her. It was a perfect day, but she was fully aware of Darien's ability to create effortless perfection. Nevertheless, she opened a window and breathed in the warm fresh air, sensing relief from the oppressive atmosphere in the game that was slowly coming back to her. A gentle breeze brushed across her face, and as she closed her eyes to enjoy it, she heard a faint ruffling noise behind her. Jenny turned around to find a piece of paper sweeping across her bedroom carpet and instantly shut the window to avoid losing it. She picked it up carefully and noticed how it was the same yellow tinted paper with burnt corners as the first clue she'd found in her room. She saw the beautiful black calligraphy in its centre like before, the only difference seemed to be the longer length of the paper and increased amount of stanzas. Jenny's eyes were instantly drawn to a bold title in the top centre of the paper that read LEVEL 5: INVICTUS, and then went on to read the words below it:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced, nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeoning of chance,
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears,
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet, the menace of the years,
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
A poem, not a riddle. Jenny shuddered at the words, how they almost drew her in, and made her want to hide all at the same time. Though it didn't give any clue as to the nature of the level, Jenny was scared. She felt vulnerable in the one place that she had always felt safe and untouchable; her room had always been the place she would go to as an escape from the dangers of the outside world, and Darien in all his cruelty had tainted it. She read the poem again, and again, grimacing at the intensity of the last two lines, words similar to something she had once said boldly to Julian. She shut her eyes for a brief moment to remember that far away time when Julian was dying in her arms, and holding the ring that would go on to mean everything to her. It still hurt her heart like a stabbing pain in her chest, and with all the pressure and stress that this game seemed to be causing, she was considering surrender, to just accept defeat and the evil of the world she lived in. She opened her eyes, and just as she did so, her alarm began to play its high-pitched jingle. Jenny turned around abruptly to turn it off, reading 10.30a.m on its screen. She remembered that she was replaying the morning after she'd met Darien, and waited patiently for her mother to shout up to her.
"Jenny, we're making pancakes down here!" Mrs Thornton called from the kitchen. Jenny didn't reply this time. Something about this morning could be very different, very dangerous, and until she knew what it was, she'd have to be very cautious.
As Jenny made her way downstairs, she warily scanned her surroundings. Everything seemed normal in the living room; the expensive furniture was all in its place, not a trace of dirt or mess anywhere, and even the sunlight seemed to be coming through the curtains correctly. Jenny slowly walked through into the kitchen, where all her family were gathered for a late breakfast.
"Are you not going to get dressed, Jennifer?" Mrs Thornton looked at her daughter disapprovingly. She was washing the pancake mix off of the kitchen utensils, hair tied back perfectly and apron secured around her waist like a model housewife. Joey was already digging into his own pile of pancakes, blissfully unaware of his sister's entrance, and Mr Thornton was hidden behind a large newspaper. Jenny watched them wordlessly for a few seconds, ignoring her mother's comment and hesitantly sitting down in one of the empty seats between her brother and father. She placed the poem on the table beside her plate. Six beautifully made pancakes were in front of her, a small lump of butter melting on top of them and maple syrup oozing down their sides. Mrs Thornton was a marvellous cook; she made many dishes for dinner parties and other extravagant social events, always flawless and presentable, but this plate of pancakes was far too perfect; their smell, their arrangement on the plate, she could almost taste the sweetness just by watching the syrup drip off the edges. Darien probably planned them down to the finest detail, ensuring the smell would be alluring enough to distract her from more important matters, and so she pushed them aside defiantly.
"Is something wrong with them?" Mrs Thornton noticed Jenny's behaviour, and walked over to the remaining seat while maintaining eye contact.
"I'm not really feeling hungry right now." Jenny lied, looking to Joey who was trying to fit the last chunk of his portion in his mouth with little success. In reality she was starving; she wondered how much time had passed since she'd started the game, it felt like a few days at least, it was hard to tell without any indications. Mrs Thornton looked slightly disappointed, but quickly hid behind a painted smile and started on her pile of pancakes, while Joey started on Jenny's abandoned ones. She looked at her mother and brother in turn, subtly looking for signs of abnormality, of something that would indicate that they weren't who Darien wanted her to think they were, but her thought process was interrupted by a deep voice.
"Oh I remember this; it's one of my favourites," Mr Thornton had folded the newspaper up at some point during the brief discussion, and had seen the poem lying next to Jenny's elbow, "William Ernest Henley, the master of poetry."
Jenny couldn't help but stare at her father for a short while; they rarely spoke, rarely had anything to speak about, and now an actual conversation they could share may not even really happen at all. Still, she wondered if anything he had to say about the poem could be helpful.
"I actually don't know much about him, I don't really get the poem," his eyebrows raised in mild surprise, and realising that carrying around a poem that doesn't hold much interest to you could be considered rather weird, she continued with an excuse, "Someone said I should check this poem out, someone from work."
Mr Thornton looked at his daughter a little sceptically and chuckled before speaking, "Do you know what Invictus means?"
"No, I don't."
"It's Latin for undefeatable or unconquerable. Henley wrote that poem around the time he had to get his leg amputated, he was 17 years old at the time," he spoke as if reminiscing about an old memory, and let the image linger for a few seconds before continuing, "The poem is about self-mastery; having courage in the face of death, being brave and determined during the horrors of torture, holding your dignity despite life's obstacles. You are the master of your own fate and destiny." His tone was enthusiastic, and after he had finished explaining, he sat back contently and took a sip of his coffee. His blasé behaviour forced Jenny to consider that this couldn't be her father, full of such animation and delight about some poem, and feeling rather uncomfortable into the current silence, she focused on breathing steadily.
"Does it make sense to you now?" he asked. Jenny became aware of how attentive her family had been while he'd spoken, each of them leaning forward to indulge themselves in his words, and she nodded in reply.
"Glad I could help." He said, picking up the poem and reading it again. Joey resumed eating and Mrs Thornton cleared her throat.
"I'm so glad Mr Perry isn't using that stupid lawn mower this morning." she said quietly, apparently feeling left out by the sudden bonding session.
"Me too." Mr Thornton said aloofly, but she carried on speaking.
"And those boisterous children that are always running around the streets, I'm relieved that their parents have finally taught them some sense! One of these days a car will be driving by too fast and I don't even want to consider what would happen to the poor things." Jenny stopped listening. Her mother, or what might be her mother, had triggered an idea that elevated her panicked fear.
Outside, it was deadly quiet; the neighbours that usually resumed their daily garden chores hadn't done so, cars weren't passing their house, not a single child's voice could be heard. The tweeting of nearby birds was audible, but Jenny hadn't physically seen a single bird around when she'd looked out of her window. There was no excuse for the silence; Jenny looked at the clock on the wall that showed 11.a.m, her street was usually guaranteed to be busy around this time.
She realised the significance of the desolate feel to this place. No one else was there; except for herself and what could be her family members, who most likely were her family members, because they were the only other people with her on the level where Darien had promised special guests. They were the new players, and they had no idea what they were in for yet.
Jenny rose from her chair immediately, causing her family to jump and rise with her. Now she had realised the truth, the chaos would ensue, she was sure of it. She turned to the back door, ignoring her families' alarmed protests, meaning to open it and look outside to investigate her surroundings, and then hesitated as she realised how exposed and unarmed she was. Jenny pushed passed her panicking mother without words and reached for a knife from the counter, a long one that gleamed in the overhead lights.
"Jenny stop, please tell us what you're doing!" her mother shrieked, grabbing a fistful of her daughter's string top in an attempt to restrain her. Jenny had switched off to everything but her own fear; something was going to happen, and she needed to be ready. Her mother's piercing cries were unremitting, and her brother and father didn't seem to know what to do with themselves. Suddenly, there was a rapping knock on the front door, and they were all momentarily silenced by the tension.
"Jenny, are you in there?" a frantic voice pleaded from behind it. Dee's voice. Jenny dropped the knife to rush towards the door and open it to her friends, who gratefully poured through into her living room. They were panting heavily.
"What was that?" Sophie asked through small bursts of tears. No one answered.
"What was what?" Jenny demanded when Dee gathered her composure. Jenny's family were standing wearily by the kitchen door watching the scene unfold.
"Darkness. A huge tsunami-like wave of darkness." Dee spoke quietly, looking at Jenny in way that she could quite decipher.
"It just swept over everything; all the houses it passed seemed to, like, disappear." Michael gasped. His eyes were wide with shock, and Audrey clutched his hand, her own eyes filled with empathy.
"Is there anyone else out there?" Jenny asked Dee, who shrugged back.
"We kept running when we saw that darkness, then I saw your house and thought we could find you here." Zach answered, and then Jenny noticed his eyes looked beyond her and fill with realisation.
"Oh." He whispered, and all eyes followed his gaze until they noticed Jenny's family, who stared back in bemusement.
"What game are you kids playing?" Mr Thornton asked uncertainly. Joey seemed to be silently analysing their faces, while Mrs Thornton was beginning to look a little agitated.
"The special guests are your family?" Summer said in a deflated tone, "Oh this is horrible."
"We probably don't have long until that darkness reaches us, and god only knows what is waiting for us in it. We should work fast; do you have a clue Jenny?" Michael had sobered up now, and looked to Jenny expectantly.
"Not quite, it's in the kitchen, I'll go get it." She said, and on her way to retrieve it her family followed her.
"Jenny, why are your friends barging into our breakfast for this?" Mrs Thornton asked.
"I don't have time to explain mother, we're all in danger, that's all I can say." Jenny tried to push passed her mother, but her father caught her shoulders in his hands.
"Please don't tell me you're not bringing up that paper house thing again? Last time this happened Summer went missing for months and you ran away to grandpas for a week!" Jenny searched his eyes for understanding, and fell short. She had minutes before this darkness consumed them, and minutes were certainly not enough time to explain the madness of the shadow world and the creatures within it. She decided not to even bother trying, since in a matter of minutes her family would see it for themselves anyway, and probably be fighting as hard as she was to get away from it.
"I'll tell you, just let me show this to my friends, and I'll explain everything." She lied, but the lie did not reassure them at all. They were blocking her escape, and she could see her friends approaching them from over her father's shoulder, but it was too late now.
The staircase and whole right side of her house was turning a dull grey colour, enveloped in shadows that were slowly starting to creep along the carpet, ceiling and walls towards the group. Instinctively, the inhabitants of the house backed up against the furthest walls and considered escape, even Jenny's family who had no clue as to what was going on. The shadows were well passed the front door now, the only escape would be the back door, but where could they go? Darien wanted them in the shadows, and so into the shadows they would go, there was no choice in the matter, they just had to accept the inevitable with cruel anticipation. Jenny's mind wandered to the poem in these last moments, how even in the face of danger you can stay strong and defiant, how she had needed to stay strong in so many destructive experiences, and even now she was unconsciously ready to face whatever Darien would throw at her, no matter how mentally or physically corrupting it may be. The poem is about me, she thought to herself, and as the darkness swallowed her, she took a breath inwards.
For a while, there was only silence. Silence and darkness. Her friends were breathing heavily, not daring to utter a single word, but that was all, and it was only more unnerving that something could be happening that they were unaware of. The group mechanically moved together in a tight formation, and Joey was the first to speak.
"What happened? What's going on?" he was trying to sound brave, but his voice wasn't steady. It felt wrong to be hearing her little brother's voice in this context, and the idea of anything happening to him made Jenny's heart hurt.
"Joey, you need to try and stay very quiet." Zach whispered in a soft tone, and even when Joey tried to protest his father silenced him. He was wise enough to know that something wasn't right here.
"It echoes in here." Audrey stated, demonstrating it with her own voice, and just as the echo faded Jenny heard the very faint tick of dripping water.
"We're in a cave." Dee whispered.
"We can't be in a cave; we are in my living room." Mrs Thornton cried hysterically, and nothing could be said to follow on from that. A shadow man used dark magic to send us to this place through a wall of shadows didn't seem like it would be much of an answer.
"Maybe we should take a walk. There could be an opening somewhere, there has to be." Dee suggested, and Jenny felt her walk to her right as she spoke, so she followed. The whole group were moving along a cave wall carefully, holding onto each other as they moved via clothing, hair, or whatever they could get a hold on. Sure enough, they reached a part of the cave that was lit by the moonlight, and they let their eyes adjust to it. The small opening that was visible to their right presented an empty landscape with rocks resting on long, dark green grass and sparkling white stars in a stretching black sky.
"Che bello!" Audrey gasped as her eyes absorbed the scene, but it wasn't long till they heard voices.
At first, the voices seemed quite distant and harmless, but they were getting closer, one harsh bellowing voice followed by several beautiful soft ones. The group hid in a shadowed corner of the cave, urging Jenny's perplexed family in with them and listening intently. The individuals approached soon after, adorned with beautiful clothing and armour. The loud leader of this group had red hair and a long red beard, and in his hand he carried a beautiful large hammer with a short handle. There were five other men with only slightly less impressive clothing and much fairer hair than the leader, and they were all listening and replying to the abrupt demands of the red bearded man. In the centre of all of these individuals, was a similarly dressed man, with his head solemnly bowed. His hair was as black as night, but that was all that Jenny could see, he was turned away from her and totally silent. The men seemed unaware of the group's presence as they stood and conversed.
"That's Thor. How can that be Thor?" Audrey hissed to Jenny, who shrugged without turning to look at her.
"So that must be Loki then." Michael answered in reply, "This can only end badly."
Several more people were entering the cave, also dressed elaborately, both males and females. One young boy with curly black hair was being urged into the cave restrained, and another group of people were pulling a wolf into the cave via a long, heavy-looking chain. The scene broke into horrific mayhem when everyone was ready, the restrained boy was pleading for release, the wolf snarling and frothing at the mouth, and the others shouting and jeering and ordering others around. With no warning, the wolf was released and it charged towards the boy, tearing his body apart before bounding out of the cave. Jenny's group were thrown into a state of shock, but their cries were inaudible above the sound of the crowd.
"I know what's going on." Audrey admitted uneasily, "They were Loki's sons, and that crowd are the gods punishing Loki for Balder's death. I can't believe I am watching this…" The scene was uncomfortable to endure, but they all continued to watch with bile rising in their throats. The god's were reaching into the boy's mangled corpse and took out his guts, using them to bind Loki to three slabs of rock, wrapping it around his shoulders, under his armpits, around his hips until he was completely unable to move.
"How could they do that?" Mrs Thornton sobbed, totally absorbed in the horror unfurling before her, "This is appalling, I can't watch this."
"We're watching this for a reason." Jenny acknowledged, trying to scan the crowd surrounding Loki for clues, "This has to lead to something else."
A woman was sobbing outside of the crowd, a beautiful dark haired woman with her hair plaited and trailing to the floor. Jenny's eyes locked onto her, and she almost felt the urge to go and comfort her.
"Do you know who she is?" Jenny whispered to Audrey.
"That could be Sigyn, Loki's faithful wife; she mourned her sons and looked after Loki during his torture. This torture." She replied. Jenny continued to watch her for a while, until a slightly taller and more poorly dressed woman entered the cave holding a long, vicious-looking snake in her hand.
"That's Skadi, a giantess who used Loki's torture to avenge her father's death." Audrey added. Skadi was securing the snake to a stalactite above Loki's face, and Loki lay there accepting his fate. Jenny could see his eyes now, not very well but enough to see the colour of them as they stared blankly up at the ceiling of the cave. One of his eyes was a sapphire blue, like Julian's, and the other a bright green, like Darien's. He looked just as unearthly beautiful as the shadow men too, but wore such a look of sorrow on his face that Jenny wanted to weep for him, to drain him of all of his pain and anguish. The gods and goddesses were leaving, and the giantess, so that only Loki, Sigyn and the group were left in the cave, left to the eerie silence and the frequent tapping of water onto the ground in the distance. The snake was dripping poison onto Loki's face, and while he writhed in pain, Sigyn rushed out of the cave.
"Enjoying the show?" The group swung round to face Darien, who was leaning against the cave opening watching their faces intently. He was dressed in the same ostentatious clothing as Loki; emerald green breeches with simple black boots over the top of them, a thin, rich green undershirt with gold armour moulding to the shape of his perfectly toned body, and a long flowing green cape trailing behind him. He looked impressive, almost god-like with his chin raised defiantly and eyes that watched the group with a threatening authority.
"Who are you?" Mr Thornton demanded. Darien smiled and languidly turned towards him.
"I'm rather disappointed that Jenny hasn't already introduced me," He glanced her way playfully, his angelic smile secretly mocking them; "I thought we had finally bonded in our last engagement." Unlike Tom, Mr Thornton instantly registered a hint of threat to his polite tone, and silenced himself. Even with her back turned to her friends, Jenny knew that they all shared the same hateful gaze by Darien's eventual change of mood.
"Oh dear, you're all looking a little discontent, I feel I have…wronged you somehow." He was teasing them, trying to rile them up for another one-sided battle that he wasn't ashamed to admit he took pleasure in. There didn't seem to be anything to say back to that, but just as Jenny opened her mouth to change the subject, Dee spoke.
"That's quite an understatement." She growled with gritted teeth. This amused him, and he allowed a cat-like smile to replace his innocent façade.
"Quite." He grinned at her, and then rested his eyes on Jenny again. The silence only lasted for a short second, before the question was repeated, with more persistence.
"Who are you? Why are we here?" Jenny's father's patience was faltering, but it seemed that this hadn't angered Darien. Yet.
"Tell me Mr, Mrs and Master Thornton, do you believe in fairy-tales?" baffled, they shook their heads slowly in reply.
"That's foolish of you, because every fairy-tale, no matter how far away from real you think it is, holds an element of truth. A moral, more importantly." He was advancing a few more steps towards them, almost standing by Jenny's side now so he could talk to her family directly. Jenny's friends were standing alert on either side of the Thorntons,
"This is as true as the stories of the bible, stories about betrayal, greed, bravery, evil, above all evil. These morals can be subtle, and in the more sinister fairy-tales, evil is the darkness, those things hiding in the shadows that trap you when you least expect it, and always win, are always triumphant over good." He spoke as if passionately narrating his favourite story, creating an atmosphere that chilled to the bone, "I am that evil, I am the creature of the darkness that will always, always win." His smug expression was for the girl at his side, who suddenly felt very tuned out. This message seemed so normal now; she'd heard it said so many times in so many different ways, that it didn't have the spine-tingling eeriness that it used to possess.
"Is there a point to this level then?" Michael urged. The group had been largely left out of the conversation, and valuable time was lost when Darien spoke. He had made his way back to the front of the crowd huddled in the darkness, preparing his next big speech and pushing his long, gleaming cape behind him.
"This is not so much a level than a little lesson I want to teach to dear Jenny," his hand was gesturing to Loki, who now had Sigyn sitting by his side holding a wooden bowl above his head, collecting the venom as it dripped from the viper's lips. She had been so distracted that she hadn't noticed Sigyn return, "This is a very significant fairy-tale within Norse Mythology, The Binding of Loki.
"You see, Loki was known for his mischief, he was always playing pranks on the gods and doing reckless things that were sure to displease others, but he always set out to fix them afterwards. He was more misunderstood than evil, but his punishment for the murder of Odin's son, Balder, was a cruel one. You just witnessed everything that he willingly endured, and that they willingly carried out, to seek revenge. The gods, so purely thought of as protectors and icons of wholesomeness, created such an unthinkable torture as this. They punished murder with a long, painful torture and no remorse."
Jenny was listening intently to his summary of the story. She realised that Julian had spoken many a time of the cruelty of the world, had tried to persuade her that succumbing was the easiest escape, but witnessing it like this had suddenly made her believe it. An ancient story such as this had to have been created by someone, who must have developed the idea for the plot; the murder, the torture, the poor faithful wife left behind desperately trying to save the man she loved, wasting her own life for him. All of these things stimulated the part of her mind that had only recently been freed. Her dark side.
"Life isn't fair; it has never been fair, and never will be. There will always be an evil force driving people to discriminate, torture, kill, again and again, and there is no fighting it. Good has never truly triumphed over evil, not even in the fairy-tales." He was walking back towards her, speaking more softly, almost beckoning her to understand. It felt like everyone else in the cave had just disappeared, and Darien and Jenny shared a strange look, a moment of total understanding and acceptance. For a split second, she saw him as a human, a guy who strongly believed in the things he stood for, and who didn't even understand himself how much he wanted others to just get him. She agreed with him, she had lived in the world for long enough now to know how nasty people could be, how much innocence has been lost to the ever-changing norms of life that eventually corrupt society. Her perception of the world was darker, her connection to the beauty of the world lost, and Jenny couldn't forget even in this dismal setting how trapped she had felt by fear, paranoia, curiosity, confusion….
Dee had been saying something to him, in her far away state Jenny could still make out the words 'Aba' and 'proof'. It was only natural that Dee would fight back; the very message that Jenny had held onto about returning good for evil was the one Deirdre had grown up with.
"And now she is deceased. Death has consumed her, is that not proof enough?" Darien replied finally, and Dee was lost for words. The memory of Aba's lifeless body was a powerful and painful one, she didn't want to remember.
"Now, if you would like to follow me, we must continue onto level 6, the final instalment in my little game." He walked towards the entrance that he had come through and waited for them to follow him out, "I thought it would be appropriate to invite your family to such a significant event in your life, the salvation of your precious Julian." His eyes ridiculed her, he said the last line as if such a thought was insane, but the grin had returned to his lips, and those bright green eyes followed Jenny as she exited the darkness and walked into the moonlight outside.
"I've altered the landscape a little to make a shortcut into my desired location." He spoke with easily politeness, leading the group of ten to a colourful sparkling bridge that stretched from the hill in front of them into the far distance, clouds obscuring the other side of it. The bridge didn't seem stable; it was semi-transparent and consisted of a rainbow-patterned mist that lazily bobbed up and down in the air, but when Dee placed at uncertain hand on the bridge's entrance, the bridge seemed to somehow be solid. Darien watched calmly as each individual carefully climbed onto the rainbow bridge and became familiar with the strange surface.
"Bifrost awaits you." He announced boldly without humour, before fading away into the darkness. A confusion and anticipation was silently shared as the group gazed out into the concealed space around them, wondering what could be waiting for them on the other side.
"Let's go." Audrey, who had been silent for a while now, beckoned them to move from the front, "The sooner we can finish this game, the better."
Chapters 12 to 14 have been roughly planned out so far, I think I know how I'm ending this story, and I'll write it and post it ASAP